Sons of Illusion
Author: Adriana Cepeda
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:Amid a bloody political riot in Bogotá, a young boy searches for his father.
Synopsis:In present-day Colombia, ANGELICA (a 19-year-old painter) searches through her mother’s old junk until she finds a small canvas rendering pre-1948 Bogotá. She copies the painting onto a huge canvas, then tells her mother, NIXA, that she intends to visit her grandfather, MARCO LEON. Nixa doesn’t want her to see him at all, and the two have a heated argument. In the end, Angelica goes to visit Marco. On her way, she discusses city violence with a TAXI DRIVER, who complains that many cab drivers are killed so their cars can be stolen. At Marco’s house, the old man tells Angelica the story of something that happened to him as a child.
April 1948. 10-year-old Marco has a grand old time, playing with his father RAFAEL; his four-year-old sister, JUANITA; and his eight-year-old brother, LUCIANO. Out on the streets of Bogotá, it becomes clear that political rivalries are heated. Children scream hateful slurs against children from families of the opposing party. While out on the town, Rafael explains why his family are liberals and that the conservatives have a simple agenda: to wipe out liberals. The attend a liberal political rally hosted by presidential candidate GAITAN. He gives a speech declaring that only the liberal party can bring peace to the common man.
Later, Marco plays football with his friend CRISTOBAL and a bully named FRANCISCO, who pounds Marco. Rafael chastises Marco, saying he should fight back. That night, Rafael fights with Marco’s mother, ELENA, when she denies him sex (not for the first time, it’s implied). The following day, with Rafael in close proximity, Gaitan is gunned down, prompting a bloody riot, with liberals shooting at anyone resembling a conservative (including soldiers from the current conservative government), and soldiers trying to contain the city.
In the midst of this, Marco runs off into the violence — with Luciano tagging along, unknown to Marco at first — to find his missing father. Luciano is nearly shot by a liberal thinking his blue sweater indicates that he supports the conservative party; Luciano takes off the sweater. Elena tries to go after her boys, but the violence is nearly too much for her. When she sees a woman raped by escaped prisoners, she goes home.
Marco and Luciano make it to their father’s office. His secretary, HILMA, and a worker named IGNACIO are there, but Rafael is nowhere to be found. Liberal militants bust into the office, having word that it’s owned by a conservative. Hilma explains the misunderstanding, and the liberals leave peacefully. Ignacio wants to leave, so he decides he’ll escort Marco and Luciano back home. Almost immediately after leaving the building, Ignacio is gunned down. They rush into a building run by a woman named LUZ, who agrees to help them. She takes them up to her rooftop, where she believes they’ll both be safe. On the roof, they meet a wild, friendly old man named ASCLEPIADES, who has a winged bicycle. He agrees to give Marco and Luciano a ride to another rooftop. In mid-air, one of his bicycle’s wings is shot, and it spills onto a nearby rooftop, crushing Luciano’s leg. They are taken in by a restaurateur, ENRIQUE, and his wife, CECI. They tend to Luciano but can’t do much without medical care. Enrique knows Rafael, knows where he intended to go, but refuses to tell Marco because it’s too dangerous.
Mewanwhile, a young FIDEL CASTRO worries about the escalating violence. ADAN ARIAGA plots a coup d’etat that never gets off the ground.
The next morning, Marco detaches the wings from Asclepiades’s bicycle and steals it. He visits the nearby cemetery, sees bodies as far as the eye can see. Meanwhile, army soldiers bust into Enrique’s restaurtant and agree to take Luciano to a hospital. Marco runs into a young popcorn salesman who says he thinks he’s seen Rafael going into a nearby red building. Marco goes to the building and is greeted by a SCANTILY CLAD WOMAN, who offers to bring him in to her party. She gets him drunk. He shares his first kiss with a girl, a 14-year-old named SOFIA, who thinks he’s cute. Sofia says that perhaps Rafael was there: a man came in hiding from the army, then soldiers busted in and took him prisoner.
Marco sneaks into an army building and into the prisoner. He searches cells for Rafael but doesn’t find him. He gives bread to an OLD WOMAN in one of the cells. Marco slips on a wet staircase and awakens in a cell, taunted by three older prisoners who think he’s a rich kid. They want to steal his clothes. The Old Woman kicks him a gun that she has concealed under her dress. He shoots, hitting the wall and ceiling before finally hitting one of the Prisoners’ legs. When the Soldiers find them, the Prisoner has taken the gun from Marco and has it aimed at the boy’s head. They take the Prisoner away, and let Marco go, realizing they had thrown him into the cell in error.
Marco asks them for help in finding his father. They search the records but find he has not been arrested. Marco asks to see a list of the dead, but the Soldiers say they don’t even have a list — there’s just too many. Disappointed, Marco leaves with an army escort. They want to take him home, but he insists on going to the Presidential palace. For some reason, they agree to this and drop him off there. Marco tries to get into the palace but is refused. That night, he runs through the streets of Bogotá, knocking on doors, trying desperately to find Rafael. He falls asleep in an abandoned apartment building.
The next morning, in a public park, Asclepiades finds Marco and his bicycle. Together, they go to the central hospital to find Rafael. Instead, they find Luciano. All three decide to go back to the Leons’ apartment, but Asclepiades leaves them at the entrance. Marco and Luciano find the apartment ransacked, and Elena gutted. She dies just after their arrival, pleading for them to take care of their sister. Luciano finds Juanita locked in a closet. The three children decide to simply wait in the apartment for Rafael to return. Three days later, they see Asclepiades fly by on his bicycle. He agrees to fly them around, dropping notes to Rafael all over Bogotá.
Meanwhile, American GENERAL MARSHALL arrives at a school to take part in a Pan-American conference, and a few days later, the CIA DIRECTOR ROSCOE HILLENKOETTER announces to the House of Representatives that their investigation inicates Gaitan was assassinated by one man, JUAN ROA. In the present, Angelica and aged Marco discuss possible conspiracies, including GABRIEL GARC√çA M√ÇRQUEZ witnessing a possible CIA agent across the street while the assassination took place.
In 1948, martial law is lifted and the government proclaims that behavior has returned to normal. Grandmother Sol arrives back at the Leon apartment. Word has spread about secret army prisons holding prisoners off the record. Sol agrees to take Marco to the army building to find if Rafael is actually there. Luciano and Juanita sneak out and follow them, so the quartet goes together. They are denied information by an army officer. Marco sneaks back into the prison to find his father. He asks the Old Woman in the cell where the secret prisoners are kept. She points, and he finds Rafael. Rafael refuses to tell him why they’ve imprisoned him or whether or not he had anything to do with the assassination. When Soldiers arrive to take Marco away, Rafael denies he even has a son. Juanita and Luciano insist on going to find Elena’s body at the cemetery. Marco reluctantly agrees, and he takes a beautiful white flower to one of the pits where all the unnamed bodies have been buried.
In the present, Angelica shows Marco an article she has found on the Internet, showing that a 100-year-old prisoner named Rafael was finally released. Marco goes to see his father, for the first time in nearly 60 years.
Comments:At its core, a desperate son searching for his father in war-torn Bogotá is a powerful story. It also sheds light on an event in Colombian history that is, perhaps, not as well-known or well-remembered in the United States. The backdrop, and the core story of Marco’s search, makes for fascinating material.
However, certain narrative forces work against this story. First and foremost, the dialogue is both expository and exceptionally melodramatic. It doesn’t serve the characters well by establishing them, the rhythms of their speech, the words they use. Much of the time, the children don’t sound like children, and nearly all of the characters speak in heightened clichés, fraught with melodrama.
With this in mind, many scenes veer away from the main story of Marco and the Leon family, concentrating instead on the political drama unfolding around them. There aren’t enough of these scenes to make a compelling argument for this political intrigue as a worthwhile subplot, and frankly, whenever the action moves away from Marco’s story, the narrative momentum just dies. There’s an urgency to his struggle, and the danger that surrounds him, that simply isn’t present in these political scenes. Part of the reason for this is that, like the melodramatic main characters, these real-life political figures exist solely to explain up-to-the-minute details of what’s happening. They’re not authentic characters, and they contribute nothing to the story that a background radio broadcast or idle gossip couldn’t also establish.
The political drama reaches its ludicrous height when modern-day Marco and granddaughter Angelica discuss the many conspiracy theories, comparing Gaitan’s assassination to the Kennedy assassination. It’s all true information, but it contributes nothing to the story. If the author wants to delve into the conspiracy, it could easily be told like Oliver Stone’s JFK, perhaps with an older Marco still searching for his imprisoned father and gradually uncovering and piecing together one or many possible conspiracies, even heightening the drama by implying perhaps Rafael was personally involved in the conspiracy. That’s not the story that’s being told here, so the conspiracy stuff flies out of left field and just feels ridiculous.
The same could be said of Asclepiades and his magic flying bicycle. This may fall into the realm of “magical realism,” but the tone would be more consistent if there were more incidents of surrealism or symbolic imagery. Like the political intrigue, there’s simply not enough of it to make it anything more than a distraction from the tragic story of the Leons. Every distraction from their story weakens it. (While Asclepiades and the bicycle do fall into the main plot, the sheer goofiness of it is incredibly distracting.) In addition, I racked my brain and could neither figure out what the character or his bicycle even symbolized nor why he has an ancient Greek name.
Finally, the present-day framing device contributes nothing to the overall story. Angelica’s conflict with her mother is bland (and doesn’t amount to anything, since Angelica’s in the script all of 10 pages), Marco recalling the events in 1948 doesn’t add up to much, and the reunion with his father could be poignant but is still, in the end, unnecessary.
With more natural dialogue and fewer distractions from the simple but powerful story it wants to tell, Sons of Illusion could be a real winner.